1. The GOLD standard: Birkenstocks of Germany! The Birkenstock shoe has been around since 1964.
The "core" of these shoes are the orthopedic footbed, made to mimic the natural curvature of the foot. They are made of mainly cork, and they have plenty of arch support and toe room. They also help to align the heel with the deep heel cup and the "lip" at the front of the sandal prevents sliding while promoting the natural gipping motion of the toes. These are the shoes that started the trend. They have been popular with the hippie crowd since their inception, but today anyone who wants to long lasting, supportive sandal belongs in a Birkenstock.
Style: There are different styles, but the most popular is the Arizona, the two strap and buckle suede slide in sandal. Both men and women wear these, and they are good for wider feet as well. Not very fancy or pretty, more like preppy. But many hikers and walkers are not too concerned how cute their feet look after a few miles.
Price/Value: 'Stocks are pricy! But they are well made and they last for years! No more throwing sandals away after a season. After the third or fourth time of this , you may have well paid for the 'Stocks.
Where do I get 'em: At DSW shoe warehouse (Arizona only), upscale department stores, Nordstrom Rack (hit or miss), specialty shoe stores like Van Dyke and Bacon or my favorite ebay!!! Look for a bargain or DSW coupons to reduce the +/- $69-$140 price tag by $10 or more. Remember these are NOT throwaways, so they are a good value.
***These shoes need to be broken in. I will give some tips for that later.
2. If you want to save some cash and still have the Birkenstock experience, you can try:
BIRKIES by Birkenstock Corp. in Germany--same footbed, non-leather and cute eco-friendly designs, many cute designs for kids. They are slighly cheaper than their parent sandals.
3. BETULA and 4.WORLD WALKERS--both licensed by Birkenstocks with the cork orthopedic footbed, only may run slighly narrower than the real 'Stocks, especially WW.
Licensed by Birkenstock, but made in Spain (Betula) and China (WW).
Style: Betula has more variety in styling. Has some more ladylike styles. WW mainly sells Arizona-type shoes.
Price/Value: Both made a bit more cheaply than 'Stocks. Betulas will run $40-70. WW will run about $40 max. Buckles and leather uppers are of diminished quality, but still good for this type of footbed at this price.
Where can I buy em': Around the MD area, I have seen Betulas at Nordstrom and the Rack (yes, hit or miss). World Walkers I have only seen online, like on ebay.
***Also need to be broken in. The footbed takes getting used to, but once it's broken in, it's fabulous.
***While I love ebay, I want to warn you, do not buy used Birkenstocks, Birkies, Betulas, or WW. The footbed conforms to your own foot and will never accomodate another foot once broken in.